Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Free to Be

Sometimes our memories are visual, sometimes auditory. One of my earliest musical memories is when I had my first turntable—it was white and blue, I think, and definitely crafted for children—and I recall one of the first records I owned: Free to Be . . . You and Me. (Yes, I am seriously dating myself here: not only with the title of the album, but with the fact that music was still mainly vinyl when I was young!) The album was first released in late 1972, but I was older than three when I first heard the songs. We were living in Chicago, on Commonwealth, so I must have been around eight years old. And it was exactly the time in my life when I needed to hear the messages in this socially progressive collection of stories and songs. Now, when I think back on it, I am amazed at what Marlo Thomas and her "friends" (the likes of Alan Alda, for example, and Rosey Grier the pro football player and needlepoint crafter!) accomplished, and what an impact they made on a whole generation. At the time, I just liked to listen, not really aware that my mother had carefully selected for me a compilation that would shore up my values and feelings of self-esteem. (I have to note here: in all areas, she was wonderful in this way. In an era when it was not exactly easy to find representation of minority culture on the shelves of local bookstores, she found amazing titles to open whole worlds to me, to help make me see the universal and not things like gender or skin color. She was always ahead of the times, my mother—she still is!) Free to Be . . . You and Me focuses on busting social stereotypes. I remember so well the songs "William Wants a Doll," which is self-evident in its subject matter, and "Atalanta," the story of the young girl who ran fast as the wind and raced for her right to marry a young man of her own choice . . . or to not marry at all. I remember "It's All Right to Cry," sung by Grier, and also the creepy tune of "Girl Land," with its ominous factory-style theme park that would turn girls into "ladies" and where you would forever "pick up after the boys" (happily, in the song, Girl Land is dismantled). Although it was long ago, I can still remember a lot of the songs, their lyrics. The messages are so ingrained, and happily taken much more for granted in today's world. But as much as this album might seem a folksy, archaic relic of the 1970s, I suspect that the messages can still benefit today's kids. When I have a moment, I will find a copy for my son and play it for him. Until then, I'll just say—about the music, and about my mom who found it for me, and by way of quotation: "Glad to have a friend like you, and glad to just be me!"

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